The Battle of Barnet (and events leading up to it)
The year 1471 should be remembered far more in English history than it is.
At that time the country had two kings fighting for the throne.
Henry VI of the house of Lancaster, Who had inherited the throne as an infant, and Edward IV of the house of York, who had usurped the throne, and held Henry prisoner. They each had a son, (both called Edward), who had an equal right to become the future king.
This was because both houses had descended from the same king, (Edward III).
The outcome of all this would be decided at a place called Hadley, to the North of London.
When King Edward met Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, (who represented Henry), on the battlefield of Barnet on Easter Sunday 1471, it was not only the two houses that were fighting each other, but two old friends who had shared much in life.
was the second richest man in England (only the king had more
Warwick was soon advising the young Edward, and they had a close relationship during the early years of his reign. But King Edward was his own man who had proved himself in battles and decisions at court, and he became even more distant when he found a new queen. Her name was Elizabeth Woodville and she eventually turned her husband against his old friend.
Warwick was a shrewd and devious man, (he once held two Kings of England in his power at the same time.
Henry VI and Edward IV both fell under his control in 1469,) and he had another plan to make himself more powerful. Edward's younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, was jealous of the king, and in 1469 he married Warwick's eldest daughter Isabel.
The Duke now had a chance to be "The Kingmaker", if he could get Clarence onto the throne. With this in mind they raised an army against the king, which ended in defeat. They both headed for what they saw as the safety of France.
The king declared Warwick and Clarence traitors, and once more Edward was in control of the country.
King Henry's wife, Queen Margaret, and the young Prince of Wales were also in exile in France.
She hated Warwick as it was he who had taken the crown from her husband, who was still imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Lancastrian's had been in exile for many years and were impatient to get home to see their families.
Eventually she allowed Warwick to see her, and he begged her forgiveness.
This she finally accepted. She also accepted Warwick's suggestion that his youngest daughter, Anne, become betrothed to Edward Prince of Wales which they did in July 1470. Once more Warwick had the chance to influence the future king and be "Kingmaker"
The badge of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Of course The Duke of Clarence was none too pleased with Warwick's plans, as he would lose his chance of the throne. Soon he would get his revenge.
The Lancastrian's planned their invasion of England.
By September 1470 they were ready.
They landed a force in southern England and headed inland, gathering more troops on the way. Edward was taken unawares as he and his forces were putting down a rebellion in the north. When he heard of Warwick's return he headed for London. But at Doncaster he was told that a large part of his army led, by The Marquis of Montagu, (Warwick's brother), had changed sides and would now be fighting against him. Trapped, and without enough men to win a battle, Edward, with his brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, decided it was better to run and fight another day.
They made for Bruges and his old friend Louis de la Gruthuse, the Governor of Holland. With Edward no longer in the country the land was in chaos. Order had to be restored. Warwick did this by putting Henry back on the throne, but at his coronation it was noticed that many of the Lords and knights present wore the bear and ragged staff badge of Warwick. Once the old king was dead the Earls daughter would be queen, and he would again be a leading figure at court.
Although the Lancastrians had taken over London they had allowed Edward's wife to keep the sanctuary of Westminster. Here in November 1470 she gave birth to a son, (Edward). Within six months, with the country having two kings and two heirs apparent , a conclusion would be reached on a common just outside Barnet.
Warwick visits Henry VI in the Tower of London
King Edward had wasted no time in building an invasion army during his absence and by early March 1471 he had enough men to set sail for his homeland, and landed at the Humber on the 14th March.
It did not take long for this news to reach Warwick and he began recruiting troops at Coventry ready for the battle that surely was to come. Meanwhile Edward headed for York, gathering men at arms on the way. From there he went to Coventry to confront Warwick and challenged him to a fight.
This the Earl rejected, as he was waiting for The Duke of Clarence to arrive with reinforcements. Edward did not want to wait and marched away to meet his bother Clarence in Battle. Instead of fighting, however, the three brothers, Edward, Clarence and Richard forgot their differences and the York family was again united. With their large force they marched into London and Henry VI was returned to the tower. He did not know that he only had six weeks to live.
Warwick waited within the walls of Coventry after Edward's sudden departure until The Earl of Oxford, The Marquis Montagu and The Duke of Exeter had joined him. Then he was satisfied that their combined strength was enough to go into in battle. They followed Edward south, with a large and well provisioned artillery train, and on Good Friday April 12th 1471 Warwick's Lancastrian army marched to St Albans, and camped on the outskirts.
There had already been two battles there during the last few years and the people of the town must have been terrified that it was going to happen again.
is set on a plateau and it was, (and still is), one of the most important
towns in southern England.
The great thing about the battle of Barnet is that there are many
Every historian or writer on the battle can only surmise about what
happened. But there is an account of what did occur that April day written nearer
This is the Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV, in England and the Finall
Recouerye of his Kingdomes supposedly written by Nicholas Harpisfield,
a Clerk, who seems to have been present at the time
To get a real feel of what went on, you have to visit the common to see
that this could not have been like any ordinary battle where two sides
faced each other in a field. But more of that later when we discuss the
SUNDAY 14th April 1471
weather made it seem like that by covering the common with a thick mist.
The Gunfire from the Lancastrians the previous night did little to help visibility and both sides waited until it was clear enough to start the battle. They both knew the other was not far away as soldiers prepared for the forthcoming fight.
The sounds of horses and armour and the battle cries of their leaders, kept them in touch with each other in the mist Warwick and his knights had decided to fight on foot rather than join the battle on horseback, showing their men that they were willing to die among them.
The horses were sent to the rear. It was Edward who led the attack after he ordered no quarter, and it probably took a minute for the enemy to come face to face, swinging axes, swords and pikes at anything that appeared before them.
Men would have been hacking at each other with cries of death and pain all around, with no idea who had fallen.
It must have been horrific, like two groups of football hooligans with the right to carry weapons and to kill their rivals in the name of the king. There was no love lost between these two houses.
On Edwards left, Lord Hastings, ( Richard), had no idea he was outflanked by Oxford and it must have come as a big surprise when they were attacked from the side,( the area of the south west of the present golf course) Hastings, (Richard's), men were not expecting such a strong force to attack them.
Panic led to them running away from the battlefield in the direction of the town.
Many were cut down as they tried to reach the horses tied up at the rear, and some made it to London with cries of "The king is dead"
In battles of those days it was not unusual that when panic set in the morale would drop, and many would sooner run than face the uncertainty of who they were fighting. Many a soldier changed sides half way through a battle if things were not going their way. If it had been a clear day all would have been lost as Edward's men would have seen the army on their left being chased and killed all the way to Barnet.
Warwick received the news of Oxford's success, he must have felt he was
on the verge of victory.
would attempt to attack through swampy ground, (remember he had had all the previous day to scout the area and decide his tactics).
The entire Lancastrian flank on the eastern side of the battlefield began falling back towards the Great North road and the centre of the battle field.
As Warwick was with the reserves, it is possible that he was among them when they went to help Exeter.
This made a difference and The Lancastrians slowly started to push Richard's, (Hasting's), men back.
At about this time,(meaning that the battle had been going on for two or three hours with neither side making a breakthrough), Oxford had collected enough troops to launch an attack to the rear of the Yorkists. With hand to hand fighting, losing and taking ground for hours, it seemed that the line of battle had now changed. Instead of the enemy facing each other from east to west, they were now hacking at each other from north to south.
This meant that where Edward's troops had been a few hours before was now occupied by Montagu's troops, who had swung round during the battle.
Unfortunately no one bothered to tell Oxford, and when he rode out of the mist from the town he would have been expecting to fight his enemy. Perhaps Warwick, in his rescue of Exeter, forgot to tell his brother that Oxford was on his way, and to look out for friends. So when Oxford did appear, his banner was mistaken for Edward's and Montagu's archers let loose a volley of arrows that killed some of Oxfords men.
If you have read about the War of the Roses ,(click here for a brief history), you will know that treachery played a big part at that time, with noblemen changing sides and taking their armies with them. Oxford's archers fired back, thinking they were being attacked by the Yorkists. When they recognised each other there was utter confusion ,with both sides assuming they were being betrayed.
The cry of "treachery!" was on everyone's lips and Oxford and his men fled the field thinking Montague had turned traitor. Not long before that day, he had fought on the side of the king and chosen to fight with his brother because of the family ties. No one would have been surprised if he went over to the king at any time during the battle.
While Montagu's army were trying to work out who was fighting who, Edward took advantage of the situation and pressed harder at the slowly faltering Lancastrian line.
The damage had been done and the panic and fear was once again there. Men threw down their weapons and ran as fast as they could to get away from the death all around them.
They scattered to the west or the north, as this would have been their best escape.
Over by Hadley church, (although not built in 1471), Richard, (Hastings), had started to push Exeter back across the ground they had been losing for some time, as more and more Lancastrians began to desert.
The Duke of Exeter tried to rally his men, as he was a brave man who would never give in.
He too had decided to fight on foot to prove to his men that he was willing to die with them, (or perhaps a horse would be of no use in the boggy ground). Either way he made a stand and was knocked to the ground by a heavy blow to the head.
Assumed dead, his armour was taken, but he wasn't recognised by the Yorkist soldiers and they left his unconscious body laying in the mud. Elsewhere on the common Montagu lay dead. No one knows how or where, although some have written that he had Edwards colours beneath his armour and was killed when they were revealed. Whatever is true, it could have done no good to the rest of his army. Without their leader there was no more reason to fight and they joined the rest of the screaming masses, leaving behind the bodies of friends.
here on the story of the Battle of Barnet becomes shrouded in theories,
speculation and mystery.
With thousands of bodies on the common, Edward and his brother left the battlefield behind them and headed through Barnet. This is where, in history books, the Battle of Barnet ends. But it was known that Edward was fond of his drink and fair to his men so we might be able to assume that many of the royal assembly quenched their thirst in one of the taverns in town before their journey back down the hill and onward to London.
On the Internet you can find about eight different maps which more or less agree about the battle site taken up by both armies. The key to where the battle took place is meant to be a hedge that runs through Old Ford Golf Club. It is said that Warwick hid his troops behind the hedge, waiting for the king to make his appearance.
This is probably a good view of where Oxford would have been.
History is a great subject as, unlike today where we can film events, we have to rely on writings of the time.
These are often accounts written a few years after the event. The battle of Barnet did not have much written about it at the time. Perhaps because battles in the war of the roses came and went , the importance of a particular battle is only realised years after it happened.
This is why the Battle of Barnet is unique in the wars between the two roses. It did not last long, perhaps four or five hours, and it was not the bloodiest. But the list of casualties was like no other before or after it, including the battle of Bosworth, mainly remembered because of the death of King Richard III. But we had Richard at Barnet when he was an 18 year old leading grown men into battle against the might of the Lancastrians and the battle hardened Warwick. This was not a battle where both sides could see each other. Fate, more than in any other battle, won the day.
There are many variations of where Warwick and the Lancastrians set up camp on the eve of the battle.
A hedgerow that goes across the golf course has been mentioned, but nothing positive has been proven owing to the landscape changing over the years. We do know that Warwick and his troops came down Kitts End road. Although it looks quite narrow today, back then it was wide enough to take drovers with their cattle and livestock, so it would have been wide enough for the thousand of troops that were heading into Barnet. Behind the houses near the common is a little track that is part of the old Kitts End Road.
An opening appears and you are further down Kitts End Road
If you look at an aerial map of the battle field you will see the continuation of what could be a large hedge that runs from Dury road,across the Great North road in to the golf course.
(Views from the Lancaster side of the common)
The monument is supposed to have been erected on the site that Warwick died, but it has been moved 200 yards further north to its present site which would mean that he could have been running for his horse in the vicinity of his encampment. Thousands of soldiers must have run in every direction (except south) in their blind panic to get away from their enemy.
The locals would have been aware that they had to clean up and be quick. Most of the bodies would have been stripped of armour and anything valuable by the Yorkists who were drifting back to London. Some of those of noble birth would be taken away to be buried with more dignity in family tombs.
There is a story that Edward paid for a chapel to be built near the site of the battle where prayers were said for those who died. Although the Lancastrians lost heavyweights such as Warwick and Montagu, the Yorkist, lost far more noblemen than they had in any other battle. It is said that the chapel was built either above or near to the grave pits. The exact position was never recorded, but it was mentioned during the following century in the St. Albans Abbey records, concerning repairs and maintenance.
After the Reformation, the chapel was abandoned and nothing was heard about it again. Part of it is supposed to be incorporated in Pimlico House, which lies beside the common.